The goal to accomplish positive social change demands far greater involvement on the part of the general public. We need everyone, including you, to get active.

On the one hand, there are now thousands of recognized causes around the world, both environmental and social, but for most of these only a few dedicated individuals are working to make things better. All of these causes would benefit, greatly, from the involvement of even a couple more people.

More generally, we are all suffering from the fact that modern society has completely broken down. Society's leaders, in nation after nation, care only for themselves and have forsaken their responsibilities to the public and to the earth. The only way to get them to pay attention, to act responsibly (or to get rid of them), is if large numbers of people rise up and demand change.

The question, then, is how can we get more people to be concerned, and active? The answer to this is education. We must rip through the shroud of individual denial and institutional deception that is preventing our enlightenment as a species. Only when we understand the choices with which we are faced, will we be able to choose well.

The premier campaign in any concerted effort to change society, therefore, must focus on education, and for this our idea is simple. We are promoting a new elective course about social and environmental activism, to be offered in high schools at the junior and senior level, and with the suggested title: “The New Civics.”

We envision this course as having four main elements, although this would of course be up to the discretion of the teacher in charge.

- Introductory material: Possible texts would include the Guide of Activism on this website (and A101's other content). Other general guides to activism are also available, including from www.protest.net. And, more generally, there is a wide variety of instructional materials, about all facets of activism, available from Internet-based advocacy organizations.

- Historical cases: We would encourage the teacher to explore a historical activist movement, for example, women’s suffrage or the civil rights movement, assigning reading materials that present a variety of perspectives on the movement, including on its organization and tactics and the effectiveness thereof.

- Study of ethics: We would also encourage the teacher to make a special study of the ethics of activism, from a review of the broader role that public protest has played in social development, through to an examination of the ethical issues associated with each specific type of activist tactic.

- Advocacy requirement: Lastly, the students in the class would be required to develop their own advocacy project. This could range from planning and implementing a publicity or relief effort for some local cause, through to organizing an in-school affiliate of a nationwide or international organization. For this project, on which the bulk of the course grade would be based, the students could work individually or in groups.

(Note: Many progressive schools already offer classes that in one way or another have a positive social or environmental agenda, but few have the requirement for hands on involvement to promote change.)

Such a class would engage students in the issues and problems of our society, and lead them to understand that such problems are not insurmountable, and that they, personally, can make a difference. Other likely consequences include that their objectivity about – and defenses against – social influences would be improved; they would learn to discriminate better between competing ideas and arguments; and also that they would come to understand that there is more to life than the pursuit of personal selfishness. We have no doubt that the class would be one of the most popular electives in any high school where it was offered. And, it is likely that the graduating seniors would carry their interest in activism and social change with them to university, and throughout the rest of their life.

Action alert

Activism 101 will attempt to orchestrate the inclusion of this new course in high school class listings nationwide. We will work, if need be high school by high school and school district by school district, to encourage social science teachers to offer the class. We will also make presentations to parent/teacher associations, and lobby larger organizations, both government and teacher, which influence educational policy.

To this end, we call upon all students, parents and faculty to work to initiate the offering of the course at your respective schools. We also request that all such individuals contact us, so we can work together to coordinate a broader campaign.

(Please see the related article, We need more activists!)